Howard Schickler spent decades cultivating some of the earliest photographs of golf's champions. As the USGA acquired a collection spanning more than 1,000 images, he talks us through his work

It’s not just the grainy beauty of the black and white image that compels. It’s the glorious solitude of the subject.

It shows Old Tom Morris, in the twilight of his years, alone among the gravestones in St Andrews Cathedral.

His son is already resting there, his wife too, as well as many of his contemporaries among the plots.

I wonder what he is thinking as he waits there – the reflections going through the mind in a place that must be so bitter sweet.

Of all the photographs in Howard Schickler’s collection, it’s the one I just can’t take my eyes from.

Earlier this year, the USGA acquired his entire anthology – more than 1,000 historically and artistically important golf images from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

It’s an unmatched and unparalleled set, sourced from the personal archives of the Auchterlonie family, and Bernard Darwin, among many others.

The treasure trove features more than 800 images of USGA champions, nearly 150 of early women winners, including four rare gelatine prints of Lucy Barnes Brown, the first female USGA champion and her competitors at the 1895 US Women’s Amateur.

There are more than 30 photographs of Old and Young Tom Morris, including the picture to which I keep returning.

Putting together this exceptional set wasn’t some random trophy hunt for Schickler, whose love of golf was formed when he started playing the game as a teenager in New York City.

The image of Old Tom in the cathedral, along with every other picture in a collection painstakingly curated over decades, was selected because of what it said.

“I have been mostly interested in the human story in all the collections I have personally built,” he explains.

“The collection in many ways tells the story, and to the extent important photographs are dispersed in the marketplace, a cohesive story may be permanently lost.

“I tried to bring stability and credibility to the collecting part by assisting other collectors, historians and auctions… and it made the collection that I was building that much more worthy to stand the test of time.”  

It will now form a key part of the USGA Golf Museum’s archive, a resource of more than 750,000 prints, slides, negatives and digital images at the governing body’s headquarters.

Schickler believes it’s a fitting home for a life’s work.

“Some of them are unknown and not published that often,” he says of the images that stand out most to him.

“There’s one great photograph of Old Tom, which looked like it was more of a staged photograph but he was on the Himalayas (putting green) in St Andrews.

“You can see some women in long flowing dresses in the background. It’s just a great period piece that tells an extraordinary story.

Howard Schickler

“Another group of photographs, which were some of the final I acquired for the collection, was a suite of nine (Doc) Egerton Bobby Jones photographs taken with his motion camera.

“With this collection came a press release, which was about 12 pages long, describing in intricate detail the science behind taking these photographs.

“I could probably speak about 50 or 100 photographs that stand out to me because each one I acquired because of its specialness and its story.

“It was a tightly curated collection, even though it was a large one. People would think I was just wholesaling acquiring stacks of photographs and it absolutely was not like that.

“Acquiring one print, one original photograph, that told a great story to me made my week. It made my month.”

Discover the full story of how Schickler put together his collection, the highlights, and why he devoted his life to it, in the NCG Podcast.

The NCG Podcast with Howard Schickler

Want more? Head to our podcast homepage.

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Photographs courtesy of the USGA.